Council Committee Approves Oversight for Public Housing Demolitions
(APN) ATLANTA — After seven hours of debate, the Community Development and Human Resources Committee of the City Council of Atlanta today approved two bills offered by Councilwoman Felicia Moore, District 9, to codify their oversight role in the Atlanta Housing Authority’s mass eviction and demolition plans for all remaining public housing in Atlanta.
Moore’s first bills seek to ensure the City Council has to approve of any demolition applications sent to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
As revealed in documents obtained by Atlanta Progressive News through the Freedom of Information Act weeks ago, Mayor Shirley Franklin had signed off on five demolitions applications in 2007 without Council approval, consent, or awareness.
HUD requires AHA document in any demolition application how they consulted with all relevant local government officials.
Moore’s second bill asks AHA to hold off on demolitions for Bowen Homes, Bankhead Courts, and Hollywood Courts–three communities in the Councilwoman’s District which are family developments–until residents, Council, and the public could review and comment on the demolition applications.
Days after APN reported exclusively on this pending legislation, the Atlanta Housing Authority unleashed a campaign on Monday against Moore’s legislation.
Moore told APN she was furious that AHA’s spokesperson, Rick White, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, in their words, “Moore’s motivation is that she mistakenly fears that the Housing Authority’s plan will take voters out of her district who are likely to re-elect her in 2009.”
Several Committee Members criticized White’s comments, in addition to Council President Lisa Borders and Mayor Franklin’s Chief of Staff, who also spoke at the meeting.
In addition to attacking Moore in the AJC, AHA hired a high-priced law firm, McKenna Long and Aldridge, to issue a nine page letter outlining why the City Council should not pass the legislation because they have no jurisdiction over AHA.
At the beginning of the meeting Chairman Maddox told the public their comment time would be limited to two minutes. This had not been past practice of the Committee. Also, no Committee rules have been set, so that the rule was completely arbitrary.
APN asked Chairman Maddox if the Committee had approved those time limits. He said that they had and that if anyone else blurted out comments they would be escorted out by police.
Later, Members Ceasar Mitchell and Lamar Willis took issue with Maddox’s rule, arguing that it was unfair to introduce the rule only when an issue was on the table that was of great concern to the public.
The Committee voted to allow the public to speak without time limit.
Before public comment, private attorneys hired by AHA as well as attorneys for the Mayor’s Office made presentations arguing why the bills were in their view problematic.
Attorneys for AHA and the Mayor argued that AHA is an independent agency and that the Council has no jurisdiction over the agency.
In regards to the letters Mayor Franklin has been sending in to HUD, the attorneys argued the Council was impinging on her authority to do that unilaterally.
Councilwoman Moore responded that she did not disagree with their contentions about AHA’s independence, but that AHA was still required by HUD to seek approval from local government officials.
The letters sent by the Mayor purported to express support on behalf of the City of Atlanta.
Moore stated that the Council had previously passed resolutions supporting HOPE VI demolition applications in the 1990s. Moore also cited the New Orleans City Council, which a judge ruled had to approve the demolitions before plans there could go forward.
The present writer distributed to Council Members copies of a document recently obtained by APN, showing where AHA has requested over $243 million–almost a quarter of a billion dollars–from the City for “revitalizations” of public housing communities during 2007 to 2015.
The source of these funds include Tax Allocation District (TAD) money, sewer bonds, General Fund, Opportunity Bonds, and other City funds which have to be approved by Council.
It is an apparent conflict of interest that AHA’s Executive Vice President Barney Simms also sits on the Atlanta Development Authority, which is asked to approve the TAD funds for AHA.
The present writer remarked to Council Members that Councilwoman Moore’s bill really was only asking AHA to do what HUD requires them to do already, that is, consult with residents, Council, and the public.
APN also informed the Council that according to a source familiar with the matter, HUD’s Inspector General contacted HUD to learn more about fabricated documents AHA sent to HUD purporting resident consultation in the 2007 demolition applications. APN discovered these documents weeks ago.
During the meeting, Councilman Willis asked why the Council should approve of funds for AHA projects if they are asserting they do not need approval from the Council.
Diane Wright, President of the Resident Advisory Board, read a resolution from the RAB Board opposing the demolitions, and condemning the lack of consultation with the residents and AHA’s previous actions.
Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, reviewed a letter by Lindsay Jones, a law professor at Emory University representing the residents on an individual basis. Jones argued there is nothing legally inappropriate about Moore’s bills and that they are consistent with HUD regulations.
After much cross examination of the various City and AHA attorneys by Council Members, the attorneys admitted that the laws do not in fact prohibit the Council from seeking to have a voice in the demolition applications and that HUD allows cities to determine consultation processes on their own.
Chairman Maddox moved the first bill be held, then scratched that. He then moved the first bill be sent to Full Council without recommendation by the Committee, but this motion did not pass.
Councilwoman Moore urged the Committee not to hold the bill but to give the legislation an up or down vote.
The bills will come up again on Tuesday’s Full Council meeting.
If the current seven cosponsors on the first bill–Felicia Moore, Ivory Lee Young, Mary Norwood, C.T. Martin, Natalyn Archibong, Joyce Sheperd, and Ceasar Mitchell–plus Lamar Willis, who supported the bill in Committee, vote yes on the bill Tuesday, it will pass. If the first bill passes, it is likely the second one will as well. However, the Mayor and AHA will continue to push behind the scenes to prevent that from happening.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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